Street wise: Hanoi, Vietnam

Street wise: Hanoi, Vietnam

www.sofitel-legend-metropole-hanoi.comA quick fix blog this week as I am away on a yoga retreat in the Blue Mountains, a couple of hours west of Sydney (I knoooow, what was I thinking) and am short on blogging time this week. A post on the yoga experience might even make its way here if I survive bending, stretching and being ‘mindful’. Maybe yes, maybe no, maybe maybe.

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One of my fave shots: there’s always a bride waiting to be photographed.

So, following on from last week’s Vietnam cruise story here are a few images I snapped in Hanoi pre and post the cruise. What an amazing city is it; brim to overflowing with personality, pragmatism and sassiness. The French colonial theme still stands in some quarters with rather lovely buildings, parks and he aroma of freshly baked bread . . .which is the legacy the Vietnamese were happy to retain once the colonialists had departed.

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IMG_1655IMG_1653Spot the tourist.

 

Writer, Bev Malzard has visited Hanoi several times and the last visit she stayed at super posh Hanoi Metropole Hotel, a divine establishment breathing history and charm. Here she cosies up to one of the doormen who gave her cheek every day, and she gave back as good as she got.

 

IMG_2753http://www.sofitel-legend-metropole-hanoi.com

 

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USA – and the Mile High City

USA – and the Mile High City

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Dating back to the Old West era, Denver is definitely oh, so 21st century.

Denver, the capital of Colorado, features landmark 19th-century buildings, museums that include the Denver Art Museum, an ultramodern complex known for its collection of indigenous works, and the mansion of famed Titanic survivor Molly Brown.

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Denver is also a jumping-off point for ski resorts in the nearby Rocky Mountains. It’s a university town and there’s a lot of sporty stuff going on here. And in Denver you will find the highest concentration of recreational marijuana stores in Colorado, with a large number of select stores selling recreational and medical marijuana. Marijuana stores in Denver are required to close by 10pm. See https://www.coloradopotguide.com/where-to-buy-marijuana/colorado/denver/ just sayin’ (it is legal).

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It’s called the Mile High City because it is exactly 5,280 feet above sea level (1.6km).

I believe that as the cowboys galloped into town all those years ago and helped grow this city, it was today’s hipsters who moseyed into town in their electric cars, swishing their pony tails that have put the edge on Denver.

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It’s always been known as a friendly, easygoing place but the hospitality bar has been raised up and up.

The local Beer Trail boasts an extraordinary craft beer culture – home to Colorado’s oldest and largest beer pubs, and if the beery brew isn’t to your taste there’s a slew of cafes serving coffee that even Aussie coffee snobs approve of.

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If you are a Super Bowl fan this is the home of the Denver Broncos and their home is the Mile High Stadium which is open for a walking tour through the hallowed halls.

The main drag is the 16th Street Mall, a pedestrian and transit mall is 1.25 miles long, runs along 16th Street in downtown Denver. Stroll it and shop, stop and eat or drink or catch the free tram from one end to the other.

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And at the end, cross the road to visit the Union Station, a splendid example of 19th century architecture. Once a bustling transit institution and as roads and flight took goods across the nation, the station’s use declined. But it’s now back in business as a bus and rail terminal and a lovely hotel is inside the original building as Crawford Hotel. The main hall is now a café, bar, lounge area full of gentle buzzing conversation and good vibes. Everyone welcome as long as you ‘be nice’. Union Station is located in LoDo (Lower Downtown), Denver’s vibrant oldest neighbourhood – check out the city’s best known restaurants, galleries, shops, and boutiques.

 

Just outside of town is the amazing natural amphitheatre Red Rocks where everyone from Bruce Springsteen to U2 have performed. To see a concert here is an out of body experience. The sun goes down, the rocks surrounding you are in sharp contrast to the blackening sky, the lights go up and the music begins!

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Culture rules in Denver from high to low – rock to symphony, traditional art to an outdoor gallery of topical wall art, fast food to high table cuisine.

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Denver has been the subject of many songs by famous artists especially native son the late John Denver, but my fave is by Jimmy Buffet:

I’m about a mile high in Denver
Where the rock meets timberline 
I’ve walked this ground from town to town 
Just to finally call it mine

Writer, Bev Malzard squealed when she found out she was going to a concert at Red Rocks to see local boys made good – One Republic (Shooting Stars) . . . oh what a night.  And would recommend anyone who enjoys music of any sort to do some research before you travel anywhere and book seats for a concert so you can immerse yourself totally in the music, the scene and with the locals.

AVERAGE FLIGHT TIME LAX-DEN 2hrs 20 mins

BEST TIME TO VISIT April through May and September through October. The city’s shoulder seasons are characterized by comfortable temperatures,

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Plenty of street art around town, this bold pour of milk splash is coming from the Dairy Market building.

https://www.denver.org/

 

Singapore: Shophouses shine

Singapore: Shophouses shine
There was a time in Singapore when everything old is old again and must be torn down. After the devastation of Singapore during WWII, the region struggled to rebuild and restore pride for the locals.

Well, Singapore quickly became an economic gateway for the Asian region and a powerhouse for modernity, architectural innovation and post-war progress. 

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And while the machine of perpetual change revved up, many of the old buildings were demolished and streets flattened to make way for high-rise. And through to the 1990s the gleaming, clean, sharp-edged city was a model for progress – and the city had lost its soul.

But a change of heart was beating through the city and old shophouses were given a new lease of life and were being restored at a rapid rate to stand proud and colourful to add charm and a sense of history to Singapore. And there were even new buildings, built in the old style to compliment this emerging trend of heritage entitlement. Old buildings painted and shining with the bright gleam of pride sit comfortably in the shadow of the glass and steel monoliths.

With many beautifully preserved examples, the shophouses in Singapore are prime examples of timeless architectural appeal. These are narrow units  built a neat row that explain and display Asian heritage and culture here more than any other structure – except maybe, for the temples.

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So many styles
Close up of the façade of shophouses along Keong Saik Road

Traditionally, a shophouse has a narrow frontage with a sheltered corridor at the front for pedestrians (called a five-foot way). They have internal courtyards, open stairwells and skylights to bring light and air into otherwise dark and narrow interiors.

Shophouses display different architectural influences, often depending on when they were built. Several periods have been identified when it comes to shophouse architecture.

There is the minimalist approach taken in the Early Style with little to no ornamentation, the austere elegance of the Second Transitional Style and the streamlined modernity of the Art Deco period, which eschewed rich detailing and tiling for sleek columns and arches instead.

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A brilliant mix
Patrons dining outside shophouses along Emerald Hill in the evening

It is the Late Style that is the most head-turning, with its bold use of colour and fancy tiles, as well as the eclectic mix of Chinese, Malay and European elements.

Think of Chinese porcelain-chip friezes and bat-wing shaped air vents co-existing with Malay timber fretwork, French windows, Portuguese shutters and Corinthian pilasters.

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Neighbourhoods of KatongChinatown, Tanjong Pagar and Emerald Hill boast many fine examples of the shophouses described above.

Chinatown, Tanjong Pagar and Emerald Hill boast many fine examples of the shophouses described above.

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Take a walk through these five-foot ways and see for yourself these beautiful examples of historic Singaporean architecture.

 

TIPS for taking better food shots

TIPS for taking better food shots

Want your meal to be envied? Your risotto remembered? Your cake catalogued? So, as an amateur, make sure you follow these suggestions.

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 Food and travel! Seems that everyone wants to photograph what they had for breakfast, lunch and dinner . . . and in between. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Food and travel go together as we remember significant events, moments and meals in the countries we visit. Ah, that fragrant bowl of pho in Hanoi, the strudel in Vienna, those ribs in Chicago, baguettes and buttery croissants in Paris and the Balmain bugs in Sydney.

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So why not share the delectable dishes with friends on social media – but be discerning.

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This (above) tasted sensational – but does not look appealing in this shot.

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This is more like it!

Don’t get carried away with that fab vindaloo – in bad lighting it looks like a dish of dog food; or the bowl of chicken rice under neon lights – pale as –  and a piece of steak on a plate with a couple of veg is not as appealing as it will be in the mouth . . . in short, don’t paste images of food unless they look as good as they taste. Here are some tips for smart phone or tablet amateurs that will make your food shots sing, click!

  • Avoid overhead lights, which create a reflection on the plate. Stick to light that is off to the side, or angle your camera or device.

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  • Pull back from the dish for a wide shot to show napkins, utensils, cocktails or even a menu to create more action in the shot.

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  • If you want to take a detail shot, physically step closer to your subject instead of using the digital zoom. This goes for any phone photos. Digital zoom will just make your image pixelated. You’re better off cropping the photo afterwards.

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Rustic and real . . .

  • Did you know that you can control the exposure on your phone much like on a DSLR camera? When you open the camera app, focus on your subject manually with the touch of your finger. You will see a little image of a sun appear. If you slide your finger up and down the small bar that appears, you can control the amount of light in your photo even before you take the picture.

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  • Before posting to Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, use apps such as VSCO or Snapseed to edit the photo further.
  • Avoid flash because it can create harsh lighting on one area of the shot.
  • When photographing sandwiches or filled rolls, wedge out some of the contents so the shot is not blocked by bread.

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  • Baked goods (cakes, bread, pastries, pies) can make for great shots because of the various textures.

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  • Oozing is attractive! Melted cheese oozing from a burger or chocolate pouring out of a pudding, this is ‘food action’ don’t miss the opportunity.
  • There’s a tool on almost all smartphone devices that allows you to overlay a grid onto every photo you’re taking. That way you can make sure that your lines are straight, or you can easily divide your frame into thirds. On an iPhone, you can find the ‘grid’ toggle in your photo and camera settings. For the Android/Galaxy, you should check the settings in your camera app.

Example of bad food shots. Left, in the Adelaide Markets, wonderful spices but I sure didn’t do them any favours! And right: this is the most magnificent cheese made in Spain – better eaten than photographed!

  • Your food/plate subject doesn’t have to take up the entire frame. You can let the food take up only a third of the frame. If there’s a simple backdrop you can place your food in front of, that works well. Dark or black backgrounds can create a dramatic contrast with your image.

Happy snapping.

Writer, Bev Malzard takes a lot of food pics on her travels and often surprises herself when she has forgotten to take a shot of a fabulous dish –  because she ate it.

First published in the e magazine at www.mydiscoveries.com

Before and after – I tried to resist eating the lot but this lamb . . . in a restaurant in Trujillo, Extremadura region Spain. 

 

USA: Honolulu is the buzz!

USA: Honolulu is the buzz!

No time to visit all the islands of Hawai’i? Check out the buzzy city, Waikiki and surrounds of Oahu’s Honolulu for the ‘Hawai’i five oh’ fab experiences.

More than a stopover on your way to the mainland USA, this city has wonderful welcoming ambience; a little bit of retro surf culture, luxury accommodation with views, nature to surprise and excite, history to dig into and a way of life that Australian travellers embrace. And did I mention shopping . . .

  • Stay at Moana Surfrider Hotel. This glorious pile (pictured below) was the first luxury hotel built in Hawaii. Honoured with the title ‘First Lady of Waikiki’ this place has been hosting happy customers since 1901. Try for a room that looks along the coast with Waikiki Beach to look down on and lift your eyes to the magnificent sight of Diamond Head, towering over the sweeping coastline below.
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Tips: Eat dinner in the Beachhouse here for local seafood and gourmet island dishes.

And enjoy a selfguided historical tour of the Moana Surfrider, steeped in charm and elegance with vintage memorabilia on show.

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  • Take a tour to get the lay of the land. There are a few tour operators touting for business close to the beach. I opted for the Oahu Nature Tours. They offer several tours: Diamond Head Crater Adventure; Ultimate Circle Island Adventure & Waimea Waterfall; Natural Highlights of Oahu Adventure and North Shore and Circle Island Tour (which was my choice.) Highlight was the amazing Byodo Temple in the Valley of the temples (below).

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Tips: Take your own water bottle and fill before you leave to save buying water along the way and maybe save a little space on the planet from anther bit of plastic. Lunch is included so bring your appetite for a plate of fried shrimp.

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Beware the Jurassic creatures of Oahu.

  • Eat your way around town. OK, there are burgers and there are burgers – it is America! But because of the city’s cultural cuisine history, there’s so much more. From classy joints to hole-in-the-wall places and food trucks to fast food chains – go for it.

My picks: Orchids of Halekulani Hotel on Waikiki Beach – go for the crudo appetiser; Morimoto Waikiki by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s excellent take on local food, poke and the rest is culinary (and tasty) food theatre; Ono Seafood for the basic business of food! This is the best poke I tasted and (Po-Kay) is synonymous with the invasion of the hipsters. Have spicy mayonnaise on everything – it will rock your world. Rock-A-Hula dinner and a show. Retro entertainment and a lot of fun, Tribute performances to Elvis and Michael Jackson and; Hawaiian Journey’ through time from the 1920. Food, music and a magic show – don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it!

There’s so much more – but a little cutie for me is diagonally across the road from the Moana Surfrider, King’s Village, rather underwhelming as it sits quietly below the highrise all around. On the corner of the village is Rock Island Cafe, full of rock’n’roll memorabilia. Fab burger and fries plus a decent coffee. Kinda daggy but kinda comfy too.

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Tips: eat, buy and also bring some back – the famous Honolulu Cookie. Darling little premium shortbreads are baked in the shape of a pineapple of all flavours from chocolate to guava, passionfruit to pineapple, macadamia to coconut and coffee. They are seriously yummy and taste of aloha!

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  • Shop yourself stupid. Ask any Aussie woman as to why she travels with her family for a Honolulu holiday (or just with girlfriends) and she’ll rattle off the itinerary. Good accommodation; good value food options; great weather and beaches; fun activities for the kids; happy hour happenings for cocktails (sunset mai tais) with the grown-ups and . . . shopping. Shopping here is a dedicated holiday experience. And the prices are sensational at the big malls such as Ala Moana Centre (even has its own trolley that runs from one end of the city the centre); Waikiki Premium Outlets; Ross Dress for Less; Waikiki Outlet Shop; Barrio Vintage in Chinatown for vintage Hawaiian shirts (don’t leave town without one).

There are high end international and American designer labels on show as well as the dollar desirable shops where every member of the family from baby to nanna will find something at a good price to bring home.

Tips: If you fly to Hawaii on Hawaiian Airlines they know the lure of shopping and offer passengers the thrill of being able to carry 64kg per person. So two bags at 32kg is supremely manageable? Oh, yes.

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Good souvenirs include the cookies, pineapple condiments, Hawaiian shirts and surf gear, vintage surf posters and ukuleles.

  • It’s hard trying to cover off on five highlights of Honolulu, so number five is a cheat sheet. Don’t miss out on: The Polynesian Cultural Centre; Waimea Valley for archaeological sites, gardens and waterfall; the trail to Diamond Head State Monument and the Dole Plantation. And further to the food suggestions – around town and on the outskirts fond a Food Truck – they are institutions here – in the Land of Aloha.

Writer Bev Malzard, flew to Honolulu courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines (and took an extra suitcase for shopping). She stayed at the elegant Moana Surfrider Hotel and managed to devour an entire box of the famous pineapple shortbread cookies. She swears there’s an addictive illegal additive in the mixture – cos nobody would willingly eat a box of biscuits . . . .would they?IMG_1369

 

 

 

Greece: Back to Basics

Greece: Back to Basics

SLOW TRAVEL #2

The first Greek island I visited more than 35 years ago was Poros. I had spent some time in Athens and jumped on a ferry that was a kind of hop on hop off boat for the times. We passed Aegina and then Poros came into view. It had only taken about an hour to reach it from Piraeus and it nudged close to the mainland.

A busy little sun-soaked port with cafes and their lined up seats facing outwards crowded the immediate arrival location. The buildings and the ‘ring-road’ spread out left and right and petered off to quieter sides of the island. Beautiful, young people of the hippie persuasion strolled the waterfront and in the cafes, the waiters bustled while serving cold beers and ‘coka’.

Disembarking, us newbies were welcomed by a gaggle of locals with an offer of ‘zimmer’ which is German for room. I was often mistaken for a German in those days.

Travelled light in the 80s, two woven bags and a tiny purse – things have changed; door leading to my ‘zimmer’.

We chose to go with a little bloke with a great smile that lacked teeth but had a certain rackish charm.

The ‘zimmer’ was a tiny annex up a few stairs. The whitewashed room fitted a double bed up against a wall with just enough room to slide two backpacks under the bed. Outside were two chairs and a tiny table, and beside it a toilet with a cold shower in the same room. And at the equivalent drachma (pre euros) of $2 a day, perfect. I loved that little room and we stayed on Poros for two weeks during September. Blazingly beautiful days, riding bikes around the island to secluded beaches, drinking far too much beer and wine, partying into the early mornings and adopting the sensible habit of a daily siesta. We would come across basic little stalls boldly calling themselves ‘tavernas’ where, for a few drachma we ate grilled sardines, salad plumped with fat slices of fetta dripping in oil from Kalamata and thick chunks of crusty bread straight out of the village oven.

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My ‘donkey speak’ was not so good. But this one understood Greek ‘yassou’.

This was my first taste of slow travel – even though I didn’t know that then. Before Poros it was the Acropolis, the Parthenon, city ruins, museums and concerts – moving to the fast pace of Athens. After it was buses down the Mani peninsula to Kalamata and Githio, exploring Sparta, in and out of tiny Peloponnese villages – always moving to the monumentum and frantic music of the young, curious traveller.

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Mama ran the bar!

What I learned on Poros was to enjoy the daily rhythm of sitting on the zimmer steps for an hour or so in the morning, eating yoghurt and honey and sipping grainy, strong Greek coffee and waiting to see the donkey begin its morning walk up the hills to deliver bread to the houses stepped up high and glinting their existence to us mere mortals below.

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Hand washing always up to speed while travelling. 

Slow and steady as that donkey, I did a lot of sitting and taking life in. Just being there was enough to satisfy my soul.

I have never forgotten my early days on Poros and in Greece before I worked and lived there, and discovered other magical and mythical places of Ellas.

At Poros port and right, a later visit to Sparta – check out the crowds!

I returned to Poros in September this year to spend a couple of days on my own – bit of a nostalgia trip and a longing to be slow again in Greece. I knew I couldn’t recapture my youth or even replicate my time or experiences before, and I felt a little nervous and was prepared to be disappointed.

The fast ferry took only 40 minutes and I alighted at the same spot I did all that time ago. There wasn’t anybody touting to sell me a ‘zimmer’ but all ok as I had booked like the grownup I am these days.

I decided to sit and have a coffee and drink in my surrounds. I looked across the bay to the mainland to the town of Galatea, Once a few houses and great swathes of orange groves  creeping up the steep sides of the hills. Now – all built up with white, cream and blue houses and the groves had been diminished by development.

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In front of me I smiled while watching the local taxi drivers with their feather dusters brushing the dust from their vehicles. I took the slow road to my hotel.

Ensconced in a large room with air con (something I didn’t have in the hot ‘ol days) I proceeded to try to extract a pigeon that was stuck behind the glass doors of the fire-place. It didn’t seem too distressed and once I extracted him he hopped over to sit in my suitcase.

During the next two days I walked and talked, I talked and talked, dragging out my rusty Greek. I ate fish, salads and delicious Greek cakes. Dinner alone was not uncomfortable as the older I get the more I like my own company.

I searched for my old digs but couldn’t find the ‘zimmer’. I caught a taxi around the other side of the island to visit the monastery and then walk down to Monasteraki beach, where I had it to myself except for two cheeky dogs who set up shop under my day bed. I swam and then dozed and the day, and indeed my world had slowed down to a gentle pace. The music of the day was just a light strum on a bouzouki.

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As the hovercraft pulled way from Poros and I was leaving I felt sad, only because i wanted more time here. I was and am happy for the visit, and grateful that the more things (and me) change, the more we stay the same.

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Poros highlights:

  • Stroll through the traditional town’s labyrinth with pretty shops and neo classical architecture.
  • Explore the alleys and walk up to the clock tower for a wonderful view of the island and the mainland opposite.
  • If you have a car or can catch a cab, visit the Lemon Groves. It’s not actually on Poros but across on the land of Trizinia. If you are there and the mere hint of a breeze wafts past you, that’s probably a mythical zephyr reminding you that once the Gods looked over these orchards – and perhaps they still do.
  • The monastery in eastern Kalavria, Poros was founded in 1720 and its precious carved wooded screen was constructed in Cappadocia in the 17th century. After the visit, settle into the old-school cafe and sip on locally made lemonade in the shade of the plane trees. Fill your water bottle with cool water from the monastery’s spring.
  • Don’t miss out on a slice or two of the famous galaktoboureko (semolina custard wrapped in crispy pastry).IMG_3203

Writer Bev Malzard will visit Greece again and will slow down to almost ‘stop’. She’s working up to writing more memoirs than meanderings – but it could take a while – most people involved are still alive and might sue her . . .

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Budget flight: get your Scoot on!

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Taxi at the door and I’m about to depart from Greece. Arrive at Athens airport early, tick. Now where was my ticket? I’m on a budget airline to Sydney via Singapore so my check in will be a shabby, tucked away make-do. No. It’s in with the big kids. There’s one long terminal – just keep walking and nudging Swiss and Lufthansa is Scoot – check in 156-7. How grown up.

All my flights out of and into Australia from a long haul journey (usually European) have been with the bigger airlines, but with Scoot flying out of Athens to Sydney at a good price this was too hard a flight to miss. And for future reference as to flying to Singapore this is my research!

Tip: At Athens airport, Scoot usually scoots off from Gate A31. So get your skates on as it’s a bit of a trek there, even with moving walkways. But if you are always early like me (no judging please) there’s time to lollygag along the way.

Economy class here I come. The configuration of the seats is three, three and three on this aircraft – which means there’s no panic at the thought of being squeezed into the middle of a long row. Seat is comfy and at my great height of 167cm there is plenty of leg room.  So I settle in for the 14-hour journey through time and space.

Boeing 787-900 Dreamliner is the name of this big baby and the sifnificant route is Singapore-Sydney.

Travelling by myself, I enjoy the solitude and time for reading, snoozing and some entertainment. Scoot’s child-free cabin sends happy shivers up my spine. Yay! Don’t get me wrong . . . but this cabin has 33 seats that, except for my seated neighbour who has a little snore going on, it’s nice and quiet.

Left: Business Class comfort. Right: Economy Class comfort.

The flight leaves seven times a week so you don’t need to squeeze your dates to fit a flight. I planned my flight out of Athens so I could have a four-day stay in Singapore on the way back to Sydney – crazy not to miss this opportunity. (And we left Singers on time for the seven hours, 40 minutes flight.)

My entertainment is usually reading but for the long-haul I need a distraction so I downloaded the Scoot app for a couple of recently released movies. I also read the inflight mag which is really good.

I had pre-ordered food for the Athens-Singapore leg – it was OK too. Some sort of vegetable dish with pasta and the second meal was a chicken wrap with a chocolate sweet and some fruit. You get what you pay for – and I took a couple of my own snacks onboard – yet again to alleviate long-haul boredom. (Tip: layer up as you may feel chilly and need a blanket – but in keeping with the budget ethos, the blankets are $S15 to hire.)

On the airlines main leg from Singapore to Sydney was in the comfy and more spacious business class. I didn’t bother with food as I had a large meal at the airport before flying. But the chicken rice that my neighbour was scoffing down gave me inflight food envy.

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The service throughout was quiet and friendly, not too much interaction but overall well-mannered and helpful. My night flight that was – ‘quiet’ in the silence zone afforded me a restful sleep and plenty of room to stretch my legs.

Overall I am a happy customer indeed. And for the price, the flight, the service – I’ll take another booking Singapore for next year. What I save on the luxury of a big carrier, I can expand the trip for a few more days in Greece!

Visit: http://www.flyscoot.com

Writer Bev Malzard was hosted for this flight and was pleasantly surprised with both legs of the journey, and would recommend anyone doing this (actually I insist) to break your journey in Singapore for a couple of days. Food, fun, shopping – what’s not to like? An elegant afternoon tea at the Fullerton Hotel is recommended and a lunch at Singapore’s highest restaurant – Skai at Swissotel The Stamford – is an experience of divine food with a damn fine view. I did both of these food extravaganzas and am still smiling.

Food with a view at Skai restaurant Swissotel The Stamford; writer feeding her face; Fullerton Hotel high tea offerings.

 

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